The vast majority of hockey shooting that I do is game action. This requires one to shoot from outside the ice surface (i.e. outside the boards) and use whatever ambient light exists in the arena … usually bad. And as far as the image content goes, well you take whatever comes your way. But over the last few years I have had the opportunity to do some commercial style hockey photography where I can have far more control of the image creation process. My association with the Carleton University Men’s Varsity Hockey team has given me access to these situations three time now, the most recent being in September of this year when the team unveiled their new uniforms. With three of these shoots under my belt, it is time to document the process.
In this article I provide some samples of the images that were made and a description of some of the techniques that were used.
Commercial photographers plan their shoots with considerable detail. One of the many aspects that is planned and rigorously controlled is the lighting since this is one of the technical aspects that has such an impact on the image. For these shoots I brought a fair amount of lighting equipment to the arena, but I was 90% sure before hand what I was going to use as there was a specific look that I was trying to achieve.
The feature image at the top is of Charles (Chuck) Carre, a Ravens defenseman who graduated in 2013, taking a staged slap shot. The second image just above is of defenseman Michael Folkes and centre Joey Manley, who both graduated in 2013, partaking in a puck battle. These two images were from a shoot in March of 2013 following the end of the season. The idea was to take some on ice stylized portraits for the graduating players, and turn them into a poster as a graduation gift. This was the first of the three “lit” photo shoots done for the Ravens.
The image to the left is the final portrait of Carre in a classic “hockey stance”, with the added text and Ravens logo. We shot several images for each player with a couple of different poses. Carre and Folkes chose the hockey stance. Joey Manley went with the “hockey stop”, which is more difficult to capture because of the motion involved, but it is also more dramatic with the ice shavings spraying toward the camera being backlight. I used a shutter speed of 1/320s which is faster than then normal shutter sync speed for flash. I used a set of Pocket Wizard TT1 and TT5 wireless flash triggers that have a “hypersync” mode that allow me to go beyond the sync speed. More on this later in the article where I go over some of the technical considerations of the shoots. The image below right is of Manley doing the hockey stop.
The second shoot, in spring of 2014, was the same concept of on ice portraits for the graduating players. We did some similar poses and a few things different. We also had two goalies in this shoot which increased the possibilities. In total we had seven players in rhis shoot. Goalies Matthew Dopud and Ryan Dube. Defensemen Jordan Deagle and Brad Albert. And forwards Joe Pleckaitis, Tyler Taylor, and Linden Bahm. Taylor is a fitness fanatic and runs his own training business in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I did a fitness photo shoot with him that will be discussed in an upcoming blog post.
For the skaters (i.e. non goalies) we did a set of hockey stance and hockey stop shots. For the goalies we used the goalie stance and butterfly push positions. Compared to 2013, I made a technical tweak to lighting by using a coloured gel over the flashes to more closely match the ambient light. This will also be discussed in more detail later in this post
Here are a couple of samples from the 2014 graduates shoot.
In the three samples from the 2014 graduate shoot the ambient light in the background has a slightly less green tint than the images from 2013. It is pretty subtle difference. The tint was not really too noticeable in the 2013 collection, but hey, why not strive for perfection?
The third photo shoot was in September 2014 and was done using the new uniforms that were being unveiled for the 2014/2015 season. The most noticeable difference with the new uniform is the change of logo, from the old raven bird logo to the new stylized raven head logo, first used on the helmets of the Ravens football team for the 2013 season.
For this shoot I had four players to work with as models. From left to right in the above image are Michael McNamee, Matt Stanisz, Jason Seed, and Nick Duhn. I used the gels for this shoot as well in order to match the colour of the flash with the background ambient. Duhn and Seed are also shooters with the NetFx Goaltending School, which just happens to be the goalie instruction program that my youngest sone has been using for the past 5 years. Below is one of the several individual prortraits taken during the shoot, this one of Nick Duhn.
As promised, for the photo geeks out there, let’s cover some of the technical considerations for these shoots. The first thing to go over is the colour of the ambient light. Like most arenas, the Carleton Ice House uses flourescent lighting which gives off a slight greenish colour compared to a flash or daylight colour. When I set my camera white balance to match the flash colour, then here is what the ambient looks like in the left image below left. And now if I add a 1/2 Plus Green gel to each flash device, and then set the while balance to match the green gel, I get a much better colour match between the flash and the ambient, as seen on the below right image.
The lighting set up I chose uses 3 light. Two lights are set up behind, and 45 degrees to the players. These lights create a rim effect. I am using Elinchrom Quadra Ranger lights for this purpose, mounting them inside a strip box each with a a grid. A strip box is a soft box with a long and narrow aspect ratio. The grids are a piece of fabric in a lattice patttern over the light surface, The grid keep the light fairly directional and gives me finer control over where it goes. This is very important when lighting in an arena because there is some much glass and if you are not careful you end up with reflections all of the place. The pull back image below shows the positioning of the Quadras in the strip boxes.
The third light used was a Nikon SB900 speedlight, mounted on a boom in line with the camera and subject, ahead and above the subject aming down on abot a 30 degree angle. I forgot to take a behind the scenes shot with this light in place.
To trigger the 3 lights, I used a wireless setup based on Pocket Wizard products from their ControlTL family. The master trigger, mounted in the camera hot shoe, was a Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 transmitter. Mated with the Mini TT1 is an AC3 unit, which allows me to control the power level of the Nikon SB900 remotely, which is a great convenience since this flash is pretty high on the light stand and boom. Each of the Quadra units has a FlexTT5 transceiver attached with Velcro acting as the remote slave receiver. The TT5 can also operate as a transmitter but I just kept them in the receiver mode.
The ControlTL products also support a mode called “hypersync”. This mode allows you to exceed the shutter flash sync speed on some camera bodies, which for my Nikon D700 and D3s is 1/250 s. Having a faster shutter speed helps freeze the action and reduce motion blur, which is important for images such as the hockey stop or slap shot. Both Nikon and Canon flash units have another mode that allows faster than shutter sync speeds. This is often called High Speed Sync (HSS) but this mode have a significant loss of flash power compared to the Pocket Wizard hypersync. It would take too long to describe the underlying technology that makes hypersync work, so if you are interested I would simply go to the Pocket Wizard wiki manual that explains it all.
Although I want to not have significant motion blur, I do was to have some, otherwise the shot can look too static. After some experimentation I chose 1/320 s for the Joey Manley hockey stop, and this was enough to freeze the player, but allowed the ice shavings to have some blur. For the Charles Carre slap shot I ended up using 1/500 s, and still got a little blur on the blade of the hockey stick.
I really love doing this kind of work. It is a nice change of pace from game action sports photography, and can give the client a different type of image. The feedback from the players and the team has been all positive. The combination of speedlights, Quadras, and Pocket Wizards is a highly flexible and reasonably compact kit to support this kind of shoot.